Now that businesses in different sectors have begun searching for ways to make their processes more environmentally friendly, such as by employing more natural ingredients, natural oils have become essential components in a variety of products. To render them suitable for industry applications, however, natural oils must be processed at a number of different grades. It’s important for businesses to understand the difference between these grades in order to identify the type of oil that’s best suited for their products—and, in turn, launch products that their customers will truly benefit from.
We at Natura Aeropack take pride in our status as a leading sustainable ingredient manufacturer and provider of ethically produced coconut products. In this feature, we’ll walk you through how different natural oils are processed and how coconut oil, in particular, is graded before going to market.
How Are Natural Oils Processed?
In general, natural oils are processed in the following ways:
The process of pressing oils, true to its name, involves the physical expression of nuts, seeds, or fruit to separate the fats. Some oil pressing methods, such as expeller pressing, introduce heat in addition to pressure to extract oil from plant matter. Cold-pressed oils, meanwhile, are produced with either a hydraulic press, a bladder press, or low-resistance expeller pressing to prevent heat from building up throughout the process.
The differences between the two above mentioned methods generally have to do with the quality of the oil produced, as well as the volume of the final yield. Expeller pressing extracts roughly 87 to 95 percent of the oil from the original plant matter, making it a highly efficient method of oil derivation. Cold pressing, on the other hand, is considered the least efficient method of pressing oil, as it leaves a significant portion of the oil in the plant’s seeds or fruit. The tradeoff, however, is that cold pressing preserves more of the natural enzymes and nutrients found in the oil. Once fully pressed and filtered, regardless of method, the resultant oil is typically referred to as crude or virgin oil.
Distillation or Extraction
In addition to pressing, natural oils can also be derived from their source plants through processes of extraction or distillation. Soybean oil, for example, is often produced through steam distillation. Seeds and fruits may also be ground into a fine paste and dissolved in a solvent for extraction, as the solvent leaves the oil behind once it evaporates.
One important thing to be aware of regarding these methods is that they typically remove more components of the resultant oil than pressing does. For instance, steam distillation deodorizes soybean oil and also removes a component known as tocopherol.
Refining, meanwhile, is a process of filtering expressed oil to remove its color, odor, solid wax deposits, and any other components deemed unnecessary by manufacturers. This is frequently done by passing the oil through silica or clay, which strips it of its color. Oil may also be deodorized by passing steam through it, using roughly the same process as that used for treating soybean oil described above. Once an oil has been fully refined, it’s generally light-colored or colorless, odorless, clear, and free of any solid deposits.
Precisely what processing methods are employed for natural oils and how long the overall process takes depends on the plant to be used, as well as the desired qualities of the final oil. Manufacturers must take especial care to preserve any antioxidants, minerals, and other desirable components throughout the refinement process. This ensures that the benefits these components offer will remain in the finished product.
Grading Coconut Oil
In recent years, coconut oil has become a popular product ingredient across a wide variety of industries, including food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, cleaning, makeup, and personal care. And as with other natural oils, there are multiple different types—or grades—of coconut oil to choose from for businesses seeking to incorporate it into their products. The three grades of coconut oil are as follows:
Cooking-grade coconut oil is a type of coconut oil intended for human consumption, most often as an alternative to vegetable oils or butter. As such, it’s frequently sold in health food and grocery stores. Most brands of this type of coconut oil are a blend of virgin coconut oil and refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) oil.
This type of coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but melts easily. It’s also a relatively stable oil with a long shelf life and a high smoke point, making it an ideal fat for high-heat cooking. Health enthusiasts favor cooking-grade coconut oil over other edible fats for its many nutritional benefits, which include high concentrations of antioxidants and healthy fatty acids, particularly lauric acid.
Cosmetic-grade coconut oil is that which is typically incorporated into beauty and personal care products like soaps, shampoos, lip balms, lotions, and others. It’s thus intended for topical use rather than human consumption.
Most coconut oils in this category are fractionated, which means they’re processed further with steam and pressure hydrolysis to produce a clear, fluid oil that remains fluid at room temperature. This oil is ideal for cosmetics and hygiene products because it blends easily with other ingredients.
Therapeutic-grade coconut oil is completely unrefined, 100 percent virgin coconut oil. This oil is largely unprocessed to allow for the highest possible concentrations of medium-chain fatty acids and the lowest possible moisture content. Therapeutic-grade coconut oil is used for lauric acid pills, medium chain triglyceride (MCT) supplements, baby formulas, medical foods, and other products made by the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.
It’s important for brands seeking to incorporate coconut oil and other natural oils to select the grade of oil that possesses the properties required to achieve an optimal final product. Natura Aeropack can not only supply your business with the correct type of coconut oil to meet your needs, but also advise you on sustainable manufacturing methods, packaging, marketing, and other similar concerns. Get in touch with Natura Aeropack today and we’ll happily work with you to build a greener business.